"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 28 Massachusetts…1885 p332~350

Jack Hollister stood on the pier and looked at the
vessel tied to it, its dark rigging standing out against the
slate grey sky of an early January and its hull gently
floating as if waiting for Hollister, waiting for him to
walk aboard. Though he had traveled on ships a number
of times to get to the places he was going, he would be
the first person to admit that he knew very little about
them. The miles of tarred rope, heavy blocks and canvas
and wood planking was forever a mystery to the
newspaperman and he held a deep respect for those who
sailed the seven seas.
“Can I help you sir?” called a voice from the ship’s deck.
Hollister looked up.
“Is this the SHY LADY, Captain Mason, commanding?”
“It is sir,” said the man on deck.
“My name is Hollister, I believe I’m expected.”
“That you are sir, please come aboard.”
Two sailors came down the gang plank, picked up
Hollister’s baggage and carried it aboard, the
newspaperman following them. Stepping on deck a short
time later, he was met by the voice who spoke to him.
“Good afternoon sir, I’m Higgins, third mate,” he said
extending his hand.
The newcomer took it, “Jack Hollister, nice to meet
you.”
“I’ve had your baggage taken below sir and if you’ll
follow me, I’ll take you to the Captain.”
“Thank you Mr. Higgins,” said following the third mate
grateful to get below and out of the nip of the January air.
There were three of them in the captain’s cabin,
MacDonald and Dunn filling in the ship’s master on
details and problems they had encountered so far. Mason
nodded his head as he listened to Dunn’s report, there
were some setbacks, he expected that but it wasn’t as
bad as it could have been.
“…and as far as the sleds are concerned only six are
completed, I’m sorry sir, I tried to rush the order but…”
Dunn shrugged his shoulders.
“We’ll work with six then, Mr. Dunn, anything else?”
“The tents are completed and stowed as well as the
harness sets and booties, what we got of ‘em. The most
they could make up was 1000, but we’re not gonna be
that short. Last word I got was there’s 70 dogs waiting
for us in Halifax.”
“Not 90?” asked Mason
Dunn shook his head, “No sir, 70, that’s the best my
man could do. He’s still looking but for right now, 70 for
sure.”
“That leaves us enough dogs for the sleds,” said Mason,
“so it shouldn’t be a problem. Aesop what’s your news?”
“Nothing you don’t already know Captain. Everything
we have is accounted for and stowed. Isaac and I
rechecked, stowed and locked up the weapons ourselves.
The ship is in good shape. For the most part I’m
reasonably sure about the crew. Half of ‘em got
experience in the arctic though it is limited. Of that half,
four of ‘em besides Isaac and you got experience with
dogs. The rest of ‘em will be ok once were up there I
reckon.”
“Who are the four with dog experience?”
MacDonald pulled a slip of paper from his pants pocket.
“Let’s see, we got John Davis, Seaman, ahhh…Joseph
Michaels, Ordinary Seaman. Dick Goodman, and Giorgio
Sherman, both Landsmen.”
“Isaac, did you talk to them? What did you think?”
asked Mason.
Dunn nodded his head, “Yeah Captain the four
mentioned all have experience with dogs, I’d say
Goodman and Sherman are at the top of the list. Both of
‘em were trappers and had mail contracts in Canada and
Alaska, I checked them out to make sure. Davis and
Michaels, they got the basics down, they drove sleds
when they were teenagers, I figure Me, Goodman and
Sherman can work with ‘em when we get ashore, they
should be alright.’
Mason nodded, “Good. Well we should be alright for
provisions and were well armed and we’ve got extra
blankets and straw, Aesop, what about that alcohol for
the cooking stoves?”
MacDonald cocked his head to the side. “That was
tough to store. We got it in the hold now and I’ve ordered
the hatches left open to allow air to circulate, them
fumes build up we’re gonna have a problem.”
Mason knew what he was talking about the thought of
the SHY LADY exploding in arctic waters killing all
aboard was not a pleasant thought. “Yes, I see what you
mean. Keep the smoking restricted around the galley.
We’ll get those barrels off as soon as we’re set up ashore,
if it’s reasonable.”
“Yes sir,” replied the first mate.
There was a knock on the door causing Mason to turn,
“Yes?”
The door opened and Higgins entered with Hollister.
“Sir, this is Mr. Hollister, the writer fella.”
Mason shook his hand. “Mr. Hollister, Mr. Roland told
me you were coming. Welcome aboard the SHY LADY,
I’m Mason.”
“Captain, pleasure to meet you,” said Hollister.
Mason gestured to the other men in the cabin. “Mr.
Higgins, you’ve already met. To your right is Isaac Dunn
our Second Mate and Ice Master.”
Hollister nodded, “Mr. Dunn.”
“And to the right of Mr. Dunn is the First Mate of the
SHY LADY, Aesop MacDonald.”
Again Hollister nodded, “Mr. MacDonald.”
MacDonald grinned, “We’ve met before sir.”
Hollister looked surprised, so did Mason and Dunn.
“We have Mr. MacDonald? Forgive me, I can’t seem to
recall…”
“It was right after the war sir. Norfolk, Virginia. You
were going for a newspaper job, “The Daily”, I believe it
was sir. Your shoes needed a good shine.”
Hollister snapped his fingers and smiled, “The
shoeshine boy from…Georgia!” he said remembering back.
“That’s right sir.”
“Well, Mr. MacDonald, you seem to have done well for
yourself, I’m glad.”
“Well sir, you might say I found my place in the world
and I’m happy with it,” said MacDonald.
“I’m glad to hear it Mr. MacDonald, so few people are.”
“Gentlemen, let’s finish up here, Mr. Higgins, back on
deck with you,” said Mason.
“Yes sir,” said the young mate closing the door. Mason
turned toward Hollister.
“We’re about ready to leave Mr. Hollister, we’ve been
going over some last minute details and everything
seems in order. Do you have any questions or concerns
that we may be able to help you with?”
Hollister scratched his head, “Well Captain, one
question does come to mind. I’m not a seagoing man and
I’m sure you know what you’re doing but isn’t a little late
in the season to be heading into the arctic?’
“Mr. Dunn, as you are the Ice Master, why don’t you
answer Mr. Hollister’s question.”
“Gladly Captain, the fact of the matter is we shouldn’t
have a big problem with the ice, the ship is sturdy and
our route should take us clear of most of the bad areas,
this late in the season means that we might be able to
get closer to our objective which is what we want.”
“As you know Mr. Hollister,” continued Mason, “our
purpose on this trip is not hunting, there is no reason for
us to winter over. We get to the North Pole and come
back, that’s it. As Mr. Dunn said, the closer we get, the
better it’ll be.”
“And you’re not excited about this Captain?”
Mason gave a short laugh. “It’s a job Mr. Hollister. Rest
assured, we’ll do our best, but we’ll save the joyful
feelings of accomplishment until after we’re finished.”
“Of course Captain.”
“Now gentlemen, if there is nothing else we can go our
respective ways for this evening. Mr. MacDonald, Mr.
Dunn, I expect both of you aboard by 10:00 am tomorrow.
If everything aboard ship meets to your satisfaction Mr.
MacDonald, you may allow Higgins and his men ashore
for eight hours. Muster will be held at midnight
tomorrow evening and I will expect everyone aboard.”
“Aye, aye sir,” said the two mates.
“Mr. Dunn, please show Mr. Hollister to his cabin. That
is all gentlemen.”
The three men left the captain’s cabin and MacDonald
clapped his hands together. “Well gentlemen, I’ll leave
you for the evening, my wife is waiting for me and I don’t
want to disappoint her.”
Dunn smiled, “Alright Aesop, I’ll see ya tomorrow
morning. Give my regards to Bess and tell her I’m
cooking dinner for her when we get back.”
“Yeah, if she lets you into her kitchen,” laughed
MacDonald, “but I’ll give her your regards and see you
in the morning. Mr. Hollister it’s good to see you again,
I’m glad you’re coming with us.”
“Thank you, Mr. MacDonald it’s good to see you again
as well. I’m looking forward to this trip,” said Hollister.
Dunn escorted Hollister to his cabin, “It’s not much Mr.
Hollister, but I’m sure you’ll get used to it.”
“Thank you and please call me Jack, no reason for us to
be so formal.”
“Alright Jack,” smiled the second mate, “then call me
Isaac.”
“Alright Isaac,” said Hollister.
“Listen Jack, I’m gonna get cleaned up, what do ya say
you and me go out for a couple of beers? That is if you’re
up to it.”
“Sounds good Isaac, I’ll meet you on deck in
say…twenty minutes?”
“Twenty minutes it is,” said Dunn.
Hollister entered the cabin and sighed, the second
mate was right, it wasn’t much, a small bunk in a small
space, most of which was taken up with the writer’s
baggage. Well, the hell with it, he’d unpack tomorrow, it
would give him a reason to stay in his cabin with the
hangover he believed he would without a doubt, have.
Besides, after sleeping there, he knew it would feel more
like home, at least he hoped it would.
The middle aged woman lying on the creaking bed
yawned, wondering how much longer the groaning,
sweating man on top of her was going to be. Within a few
minutes the man stiffened and jerked, he was done.
Rolling off the woman, the man reached for a glass of
beer that he’d placed on the bedside table earlier.
“Bet that made ya happy, huh Mary?”
The woman rolled her eyes. In all the years she’d
known Ray Irwin he never changed. Some money in his
pockets and a few beers down his throat… “Oh yeah, Ray
you’re quite the lover.”
“Well, a man such as myself…”
“How’s come you got money Ray, you got a job?” asked
the woman called Mary.
The man shrugged his shoulders. “I signed on with the
SHY LADY that’s why, going up north.”
“I heard where the SHY LADY were going, but Ray you
never been north of “Bean Town” your whole life.”
The man called Ray looked a bit uncomfortable. “Yeah,
well… they wanted to make me a mate you know.”
Mary laughed, “You? A mate on Jon Mason’s ship,
how’d you figure that?”
“I got experience ya know!” he said, a little hurt from
Mary’s barb.
“Oh yeah, two weeks on your brother’s fishing boat, I
heard you was sick most of the time.”
“Only three days, that’s natural, anybody tell you that.
Besides I was alright after that.”
“Listen lover,” said Mary with a touch of concern. “The
SHY LADY ain’t your brother’s fishing boat and Jon
Mason ain’t your brother.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said with a sigh. “I just want to
prove to people I can do things, I ain’t worthless.”
Mary listened to Irwin, she did that a lot. Deep down
he was a really sweet guy but he didn’t really have many
friends, she knew he was lonely, but there wasn’t much
she could do, except what she did do for him. She knew
he was in love with her and regardless of what people
might think, she was flattered.
She got out of bed and started dressing, she had other
customers and chatting with Ray was costing time and in
her line of work, time was money. “Ray, you take care of
yourself, I’ve heard enough stories. The North can be a
pretty dangerous place and you ain’t pulling nets with
cod, you listens to what they tells ya.”
“I will Mary. Do you have to go now?”
She smiled Ray was really a good person. “I can’t pay
the rent talking to you darling.” She stood up and
smoothed her dress afterwards she checked her hair and
applied a little rouge to her cheeks. “Be careful Ray,
when you get home, you get one on the house ok?” she
kissed him on the forehead.
“Ok Mary, I’ll be careful.”
“I’ll see ya when ya come back lover.” Mary left the
room business was always good when a ship was leaving.
Irwin stood up and after putting on his pants made his
way downstairs, where two other men from the SHY
LADY were standing at the bar.
“Hey Ray,” said one of them, “ya ready to go?”
“Sure thing boys, stick with me,” said Irwin, “We’re
gonna have a good time tonight!”
14 year old Timothy Reiner smiled as his mother
placed another piece of pie before him, normally he
would only be allowed one piece, but this was his third
and he still wasn’t full.
“Eat your fill Timmy, you won’t have your mother’s
cooking for quite awhile,” said Mr. Reiner sitting across
from his son.
“Yes papa,” said the boy dutifully.
“You remember to show proper respect to Mr.
MacDonald and Captain Mason,” said his mother.
“Yes mama.”
“It’s a good start Timmy, working as a cook boy,
Mason’s a good captain. You listen to him and Mr.
MacDonald, you’ll learn,” said the elder Reiner. “Danny
Higgins, he started out same as you are and now he’s
third mate.”
“Yes papa,” said the boy chewing on a large piece of pie.
“I remember when me an’ old Aesop MacDonald was
boat steerers on the GRIFFIN, I tell ya boy, no other life
like it,” said the older man. “Difficult, I won’t deny it, but
rewarding, any good whaleman worth his salt will tell ya
that.”
“I packed extra gloves and underwear in your sea chest.
You be careful of bad influences. I spoke to Mrs.
MacDonald and she said her husband would be watching
over you as well as the ship’s cook, a Mr. Edward Dana.”
Outside the sight of his wife, the elder Reiner grimaced a
bit remembering Ed’s coffee, sure to kill a healthy man or
bring a dead one back to life.
“You know the cook, don’t you dear?” asked his wife.
Timmy’s father nodded, “Yes, yes, Ed Dana is a good
man,” which was true, just don’t drink his God damned
coffee, he thought. “I told you he’d be alright mother now
quit worrying, for Christ sakes,” said the man trying to
mask his own apprehension at his young son leaving.
“I’m his mother, I’m supposed to worry,” she said,
wiping some bits of pie from the side of her son’s mouth.
“Well be that as it may, he’s in good hands. My son’s
going to sea for the first time and I’m glad it’s with these
men. I trust ‘em,” said Mr. Reiner. “Oh, mother, do we
have any more coffee?”
Aesop MacDonald sat alone in the parlor of his house,
smoking and thinking. In his hand he held a small bottle
of rice, something he always kept to remind him of the
old days and of what he had now. At one time it seemed,
white rice was the whole point in MacDonald’s existence
and what he held in his hand contained more than a few
cereal grains. In the bottle were memories both good and
bad. He had been born and brought up in Screven County,
on the Savannah River and had spent most of his
childhood in the low country and the fresh water swamps
planting and harvesting rice under the eyes of white
overseers and if he wasn’t working with rice then he was
picking cotton for domestic use mostly, as the increase of
manufactured textile goods didn’t come into demand
until after the war. Still, he had few complaints he knew
no other life and didn’t know what else he would do
anyway. He was fed enough, he enjoyed playing with
other children, black and white and working with his
parents when he was old enough, listening to his father
tell jokes or stories and his mother’s soft smile on her
otherwise worn face, singing on Sundays and bible
stories.
When he was 8, he accompanied his father and the
plantation master Charles MacDonald into Savannah.
Aesop and his father were to buy needed goods and put
them on the wagon while Charles MacDonald conducted
business. It was the first time Aesop had seen the big city
and the sights captivated him. There were fat people and
thin people happy people and sad ones. There were
stores that sold shoes, dresses, hats and lace, books and
paper, meat and vegetables. There were stores that sold
ice cream and soda, coffee and tea. The buildings were
tall some made of brick and others freshly painted.
Wagons clanked and horses neighed… and there were the
slave patrols. They were just leaving town, their
business completed. His father and Master MacDonald
up front, Aesop was sitting in the back of the wagon with
the loaded goods and sucking on a piece of sweet hard
candy Master Charles had brought back for him when he
first saw them and what he saw frightened him.
A black man, hands tied behind his back, dirty and
bleeding, his clothes, mere rags was being led down the
street, a rope around his neck. Around him were seven
heavily armed men with
determined looks on horseback. Others looking on smiled
they were entitled to a share of the reward for bringing
in a running black.
“What’s them men doing?” asked Aesop in childish
innocence.
His father looked at him and frowned, “Fugitive slave
son, the man broke the law, you know you can’t brake no
laws son, ‘tain’t right.”
Aesop still didn’t understand. “What law? What
fugitive mean?”
Charles MacDonald answered. “Well, ya see Aesop not
all nigras is happy where they at, and instead of
appreciating what they got, they run and that ain’t right,
it’s like stealing, taking another man’s property and
running away with it.”
“Well, where they run too?” asked the boy. His father
noticeably stiffened, a dangerous question, even for an 8
year old boy, but the Master smiled and shrugged his
shoulders.
“They go places I reckon, places where the people think
stealing is right, sinful people with no pride, bad people.
You wouldn’t want to be with them people now would you
Aesop?”
“Lord no, Master Charles, I’s happy where I am. I don’t
want to be led down no street like that.”
“That’s good Aesop, you keep that in mind,” said
Master Charles. “You look at that nigger there, he ain’t
got no hard candy in his hand, he ain’t ridding in no
wagon. I betcha now he’s having second thoughts about
what he did.”
Aesop was quiet on the way home, not really listening
to what his father and Master Charles were talking
about. He was thinking about the man being led down
the street like a dog on a rope, just didn’t seem right to
Aesop to treat a human being like that jus’ cause the
man run away, he ain’t never seen no whites treated like
that, no siree, jus’ didn’t seem right.
When they arrived back at the plantation of Master
Charles, they unloaded the wagon and when that was
done, Aesop and his father went back to their small cabin
in the slave quarters, where his mother was preparing
their supper.
They washed up, and all sat down at the table and said
grace, after which they began their dinner.
“Papa, why is colored folk treated differently, then
white folk?”
His father shrugged his shoulders, “Just is. Always has
been and I guess it always will be.”
“Aesop, what made you ask that?” asked his mother.
“In Savannah, they caught a runaway, we saw it when
we was leaving,” said his father, “they was treatin’ ‘im
pretty rough.”
“Well, Aesop you safe on the MacDonald plantation,”
said his mother, “ain’t no catcher’s gonna be taking you
away sweetie pie.” At least that’s what she hoped. Still
young Aesop was afraid.
The war, came and a lot of young men Aesop knew, left,
waving goodbye to the girls, some in fancy uniforms with
lots of gold braid, others in a farm shirt and rough cotton
trousers, most never to return. He didn’t know what they
going off to fight for, when he asked he would get vague
answers and sometimes he’d hear something about
state’s rights, but he never really understood any of it.
With so many young men gone to fight the war, a lot of
things changed but some things didn’t, namely the slave
patrols that Aesop had never lost his fear of. Many were
concerned about a slave uprising, especially after
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on September 22,
1862 which stated that all slaves would be effectively
freed by January 1, 1863. Aesop didn’t know anything
about that really, but with the slave patrols working with
the home militia, it wasn’t easy for blacks to move
around even if they did have a pass. One thing was for
certain, Aesop could see the whites were as afraid of him
as he was becoming of them.
In 1865 it was all over, but for some the need to keep
the former slaves under control was hard to shed and so
they formed groups, roaming the countryside at night,
grabbing up unfortunate coloreds where they could find
them and spread terror. They called themselves the Ku
Klux Klan.
Aesop didn’t see much of a future for himself in
Georgia, he could read and write and hard work didn’t
bother him. At the age of fourteen, free from the
institution of slavery, he ran away.
“Aesop!” called Bess, her voice bringing her back to the
present. “I had your sea chest sent to the ship this
afternoon.”
“Did you pack my extra pair of sea boots?”
“Yes, I did Aesop, they right on top,” she said walking
into the parlor. “And I also put in some recipes for Ed,
them chickens you bringin’ ain’t gonna last too long up
north. I also put in one for pork chops. Tell Ed to serve
‘em up with apple sauce if he has the time to make it.”
“I’ll tell ‘im Bess,” said MacDonald, who had gotten out
of his chair to examine a chart of Greenland. Bess went
to him and placed her arm around her husband’s
shoulders.
“Is that where you’re going?” she asked.
MacDonald nodded, “Yeah, that’s where we’re headin’.”
“Have you ever been there before?”
“Once, I spent eighteen months with the Greenland
fishery,” he said. “Before that I was up around Alaska.”
Bess looked at the chart and bit her lip. “Aesop, what
happened to you and Isaac before, that ain’t gonna
happen again is it?”
MacDonald reached up and squeezed her hand. “Honey,
if I thought that was possible, I wouldn’t be going.”
“But still,” she persisted, “it could happen right?”
“Listen Bess, when Isaac and I went up that time it
was a mistake. The SPIDER weren’t built like the SHY
LADY and Sebastion, well he wasn’t like Jon Mason at
all.”
“But you said yourself the SPIDER headed out late in
the season. It’s January now.” She said with a touch of
concern.
Her husband smiled, “I know honey, but that was
different. Aboard the SPIDER, we didn’t get up there in
time for a good anchorage, true it is late in the season
but in this case it’s good for us, we’ve got it all planed.
We reinforced the ship, we got lots of food, boats and
sleds and we got experience. What happened to the
SPIDER ain’t gonna happen to us, I promise. We’re
gonna be alright.”
Bess sighed and leaned against her husband. “I worry
enough about you is out whaling normal like. I tell you
now Aesop, I got a bad feeling about this trip. I wish you
and Jon weren’t going on this one.”
MacDonald squeezed his wife’s shoulder. “I know Bess,
I know how ya feel, but like I said we’re gonna be alright.
We’ll be back in four months, six at the most.”
Bess kissed her husband. “Just make sure you are,
cause if I have to go way up there and get you Aesop
MacDonald, there’s gonna be hell to pay! You can count
on that!”
The shot glass came down hard and Hollister looked at
Dunn with narrowed eyes and blurred vision. “Alright
Isaac…how many…is that?” he asked, struggling to get
the words out in some semblance of order.
Dunn narrowed his eyes and counted, “Well Jack, as
near as I can figure…” he hiccuped, and paused to think
for a moment. “We both drank 12 shots each,” he slurred.
“That ain’t…ain’t bad for a Yankee,” said Hollister.
“Yeah, I was just about to say the same thing about
you,” grinned Dunn. “Hey listen Jack, I think that’s
enough whiskey, I gotta work tomorrow. What’d you say
we go back to beer?”
Hollister nodded, “That sounds good to me Isaac, truth
is, I don’t know how much of old “John Barleycorn” I can
drink down anymore. Beer is fine with me.”

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