"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 29 Halifax, Nova Scotia…1885 p359~367

The ship moved slow and steady under close reefed
topsails through a thick white haunting fog that
surrounded it and those aboard like some mysterious
shroud from the after world. It was if nature or other
forces beyond their comprehension were telling these sea
fearing pilgrims they had passed the point of no return.
All was quiet with the exception of the faint splash of
water against the hull of the ship and the double ring of
the ship’s bell at one minute intervals.
Mason stood forward with MacDonald, both of them
trying to look through the underworld mist that was all
around them. “Do you see anything Mr. MacDonald?”
asked Mason his voice seemingly louder than usual in
the quiet white.
MacDonald shook his head, “Nary a thing Captain,” he
said his gaze unfaltering.
Mason turned and seeing the man he was looking for,
shouted, “Crown, aloft with ya! Keep a sharp eye out for
that pilot boat!”
“Aye, aye Captain,” said the man swinging onto the
mainmast shrouds and nimbly climbing up to the barrel
at the top of the mast.
Dunn was aft and stood near the helmsman alert and
listening. Fog and coastal shores was never a good
combination.
“I hate this,” said Walker, the helmsman.
“Steady, Walker,” said Dunn, “we’ll be tied up soon
enough.”
“Well, I hope so Mr. Dunn. Lord knows I don’t like the
fog, especially round these parts.”
“Not many sailors do. Just mind your helm and we’ll be
fine,” said the second mate.
“Aye, sir.”
Hollister was amidships leaning on the starboard rail
looking onto the abyss of mist that was all around. The
stillness was unnerving, with muffled voices in the
background, they seemed to magnify the situation. Even
the seaman forward, tossing the lead line and singing
out the depth below them, seemed distant and far away.
“Some fog, huh Mr. Hollister?” said a nervous young
voice on his right. The newspaper man turned to see
young Timmy Reiner, the cook boy on his first voyage.
Hollister forced himself to smile. “Its thick Timmy, but
I’m sure Captain Mason has been through worse.”
The boy nodded his head. “My father speaks highly of
the Captain and Mr. MacDonald.”
Hollister patted the boy on the shoulder, “As he should
Timmy. The reputations of those two men are richly
deserved, I believe.” With that said Hollister turned and
walked aft to where Dunn was silently standing. When
the second mate saw him approaching he smiled.
“Hello Jack, nice fog, huh?”
Hollister shook his head, “Where are we Isaac?”
“Near Chebucto Head by best estimate, we’re waiting
on the pilot.”
“And where, pray tell is Chebucto Head?” asked
Hollister.
“McNab’s Island. Ya see Jack, Halifax Harbor is
natural and ice free, but we gotta take the west entrance
ya see?”
“Why can’t we take the east entrance? Assuming there
is one of course,” said Hollister, thinking that if there
was a western entrance there certainly must be an
eastern one.
Dunn shook his head, “Naw, we can’t use the eastern
passage, wouldn’t work for us.”
“Why not?” asked Hollister again.
“Cause it’s for shallow draft ships and boats, the SHY
LADY is a bit big for that ‘un, besides even if we could, I
doubt Captain Mason would want to use it. The charts
aren’t the most reliable sources concerning the passage.”
“So we have to take the western passage.”
Dunn nodded, “Yeah, and to do that, we need a pilot.”
“Deck there!” a voice called from the masthead, “small
boat approaching, starboard midships.”
Mason and MacDonald walked to the railing and
looked into the mist, straining to see what the lookout
Crown had just alerted them to.
“Ahoy there!” came a voice out of the white. “What
ship?”
Mason cupped his hands around his mouth and called
out, “SHY LADY, New Bedford!”
A small boat pulled alongside and a short round man
with red wiry hair and a large grin stepped aboard the
whaling ship. Mason stepped forward and extended his
hand. “I’m Mason, Captain of the SHY LADY, welcome
aboard.”
The visitor took the captain’s hand and shook it.
“Pleased to meet ya, Captain. I’m Ian Nichols your pilot.
Sorry I weren’t here sooner, the damned fog ya know.”
“Quite understandable Mr. Nichols, I’m surprised you
could find us at all, in this pea soup.”
“Oh Captain,” said the newcomer, “I always finds the
ship when they come in, its them that don’t wait that
have the problem, why, just two months ago we had a
French ship come in here, frog master, thought he knew
it all,” the little man chuckled. “Ripped her hull, clean
wide open. The whole thing wrote off as open salvage,
lost some damn fine wine with that ship, she was
supposed to take out a hold full of wheat and cotton, talk
about some mad owners, them insurance folks weren’t
none too happy either, I’m telling you!’
“Well, Mr. Nichols, I’m trust you are capable of
bringing us in safe and sound, I certainly have no desire
for my ship to imitate a damned Frenchman,” said
Mason.
“Oh, I’ll bring her in Captain, you needn’t worry about
that,” said the pilot.
“Mr. Dunn,” called Mason, “this is our pilot, Mr.
Nichols. Assist him as needed.”
“Aye, aye sir,” replied Dunn, leaving Hollister to confer
with the pilot.
Mason and MacDonald walked forward, both men were
thinking the same thing not that that was unusual,
everybody on board had the same thought, though some
for different reasons than others.
“I’ll be damned glad when we get into Halifax,” said
Mason.
“You and me both,” said MacDonald.
“Mr. Higgins,” said Mason, seeing his third mate.
“Send a man up to relieve Crown, and put a couple of
extra men on the yards.”
“Aye, aye Captain,” said the young third.
“How long are we fixing to stay in Halifax?” asked
MacDonald.
Mason sighed. “A day, no longer than two, once we get
them dogs aboard and check for any telegrams, I want to
be out on the first available tide.”
“And the crew?”
“They stay aboard. I don’t want to take any chances
with any of ‘em having second thoughts and missing the
God damned boat and I sure as hell don’t wanna waste
any time looking for ’em.”
“Amen to that,” said MacDonald.
“As soon as we’re tied up, send Dunn out with three
reliable men to get the dogs and get their asses back here.
I’ll check to see if Roland has sent us anything. You and
Higgins stay aboard, keep the men in line. If they give ya
any trouble you know what to do.”
“Oh, I don’t see Danny and I having any problems,”
said MacDonald.
Mason smiled. “Nor do I, but if any of ’em give ya any
lip, you can tell ’em that the British army garrison here
ain’t real particular on where they find new recruits.”
They were pier side by 4:00 pm and after clearing
customs, Mason went ashore. He hadn’t been to Halifax
in years and there were parts of it that reminded him of
New Bedford. They had their share of whaling ships and
fishing boats of course, but much of the wealth for
Halifax came from the West Indies trade, rum and sugar
and because Halifax was ice free year round it was well
disposed for trade.
Entering the telegraph office, he met a balding,
speckled clerk in a striped shirt and black vest sitting at
a large roll top desk. He wasn’t the neatest person as
Mason could see, with food and coffee stains down the
front of his shirt, but he appeared to be pleasant enough.
“Can I help you sir?” asked the smiling clerk.
“I’m Captain Mason of the SHY LADY, we’ve just
pulled in and I’m wondering if there are any messages
for me?”
“Well Captain, let me check for you, you said your
name is Mason is that right?”
The ship’s master nodded his head. The clerk thumbed
through a number of papers, mumbling names as he
looked. “Mare, Mayweather, Mark…Melvin. No, Captain,
I’m sorry, there are no messages for you. Would you like
to send something out sir?”
Mason shook his head, he was glad. One thing he
didn’t want was Roland, Hughes and Jones trying to run
the expedition from New York, not that he would have
paid much attention to any message they sent concerning
such. As it was, he still had a free hand which was what
he wanted. “No, I don’t think so, thanks anyway.” The
bells on the door jingled as he left.
The dogs were barking, snapping and growling. They
were a mean lot to be sure, just the type needed for what
was planned. The dogs were in their assigned area
aboard ship, loud as hell and pissing all over the place.
Mason wasn’t going to like that but it couldn’t be avoided
and it was a sure thing that the dogs cared little about
what Captain Mason liked or disliked.
Dunn counted the dogs and frowning, counted again to
double check. He turned to face Kura, the Indian who
had obtained the animals. “Goddamn it Kura! You said
70 dogs. I’m only counting 64 here, what the hell?”
The stone faced Indian shrugged his shoulders, “I got
64.”
“You said 70, you assured me of 70!” said Dunn.
“Three dogs dead, two lame, one dog run away. These
what I get Dunn, you should be glad, dogs like these
hard to find. Many dogs bought and shipped out west,
you know.”
“Shit Kura!”
“Look Dunn, you wanted dogs, I get dogs. You wanted a
lot of dogs, I got 64 dogs, that’s it. If you don’t want ‘em I
sell ‘em to fool tenderfoots for triple the price, looking for
gold, I don’t care.”
Dunn was furious, mostly at himself. He should have
known better than to trust the old Indian but it was too
late now. To make matters worse, Mason had just arrived
onboard and Dunn
knew he wasn’t going to like this at all. The ship’s master
walked up to his second mate, his face didn’t hide the
fact that he didn’t like all the noise the dogs were
making or what they were doing to his deck. “Well,” he
asked, “what about the dogs?”
Dunn sighed, “We got 64 Captain.”
Mason looked puzzled, “64? You told me at least 70.”
“Yes Captain, I know,” said Dunn giving the Indian a
foul look, “but we got 64.”
“Hellfire!” shouted Mason with disgust, his eyes
narrowed on the Indian dog trader. Kura was becoming
frightened. He had dealt with Dunn before and knew he
might be angry but this man staring at him now and the
large black man with crossed arms…well, it
was…frightening.
“Look,” said Kura with some desperation, “I got a man
who can help with the dogs, says he’ll work for food.” He
pointed at an Eskimo in dirty clothes.
“Work for food?” asked Mason, “You ain’t going?”
The Indian nodded, “Yeah for food. He want to go home,
maybe you take him, he work for food. I have to stay here,
I have much work, but you take him home.”
“What the hell are you doing that’s so God damned
important?” asked Mason.
“Well” stuttered Kura, “well, I got responsibilities
many things I’m needed for. You go to Greenland, take
the Eskimo with you. He knows dogs and it don’t cost you
nothing.”
Mason glared at the Indian and looked at the Eskimo.
Dunn spoke up. “64 dogs is gonna be a lot of work,
Captain. With the other drivers an’ me working the ship
Somebody that knows dogs would be a big help, since
Kura ain’t going with us.”
“You speak English?” asked Mason.
The Eskimo nodded his head, Dunn could detect a
slight smell of alcohol from the presence of the Inuit and
his face showed a little bit more than hard living on the
trail, there was something about the eyes…
“You gotta name?” asked Mason.
“Keelut, Captain. My name is Keelut.”
Mason sighed, “Mr. Higgins, sign on Mr. Keelut here,
he’ll work with Mr. Dunn and the dogs. Alright everyone
quit your damn dawdling, get this deck cleaned up! Mr.
MacDonald, we’re leaving with the tide.”
“Aye, sir,” said MacDonald.
Mason went to his quarters without another word.

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