"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 31 The SHY LADY p376~386

With a strong wind filling her sails, the SHY LADY
moved with a commanding presence through the cold
dark water as if daring the elements of Mother Nature to
challenge her and knowing she could win any fight that
another woman might throw at her.
The crew worked the ship, those new to such work
learning quickly what was required of them and how to
work as a team with men who were more experienced.
The mates pushed them hard, they didn’t have the
luxury of mistakes, the arctic was unforgiving enough as
it was and for anybody aboard who thought that this trip
was one of easy money, they were quickly convinced
otherwise. They learned to be out of their hammocks
when called, to climb aloft regardless of time and
weather, handling canvas and lines, to eat the food they
were given and cherish the warmth of a galley fire or dry
wool blanket. They learned to endure Ed’s coffee because
it was hot, the smell that all whale ships carried, the
noise of the dogs, the odor of animal shit and the silent
disapproving gaze of the ship’s master if he was
displeased. They learned quickly that the SHY LADY
was not run along democratic lines but that of a
dictatorship with Mason in total control and to speak
ones opinion sometimes meant a crack on the jaw as a
few unlucky ones had already discovered.
Keelut watched it all through baggy, bloodshot eyes,
seeing the men who walked the deck of the whaling ship.
His presence in Halifax wasn’t a complete coincidence.
He knew many ships stopped there before proceeding to
Greenland and when he learned that a large number of
dogs were being collected, he reasoned that they would
probably be used for work in the north and presented
himself as a man with experience handling dogs and in
need of a job. When he found out that they were indeed
for work up north and that a ship was coming to pick
them up, Keelut felt this was the one Ahnah had seen in
her dreams, the one she had spoken of. Kura, the old
Indian had collected 100 dogs, but as the mail contracts
were steady and paid better, he only offered Dunn the 64
that he did because he been paid and even they weren’t
the best of the lot. Keelut told the old man he wouldn’t
say anything, if he allowed the Inuit to go in his place to
take care of the animals, which was fine with Kura
because he didn’t want to go with the SHY LADY anyway.
One thing was for certain, this ship certainly wasn’t run
in the same manner as the HARMONY and the Eskimo’s
old tricks wouldn’t carry him very far. Getting the
information he wanted was going to be a little more
difficult than he had planned as he attempted to gauge
those about him.
The ship’s master, Mason was a hard man that much
Keelut could see, a far different man than Captain
McCloud that was for sure. He didn’t mix much with the
crew and was reserved with strangers. At first Keelut
didn’t know if he just disliked the Eskimo or simply had
nothing to say to him, after a few days he began to see
that Mason didn’t talk much to anyone other than the
mates or the ship’s cook who made the worst coffee he’d
ever tasted. Still, he could keep trying. Being the
captain’s toad had its advantages.
The first mate, the black man called MacDonald was as
tough as the captain and Keelut could see that he was
more than capable of taking care of any problems aboard
ship. He had heard
that before, the whites had kept blacks as slaves in
America and wondered if MacDonald had been Mason’s
slave. He seemed intelligent enough, maybe that’s why
Mason kept him around. He hadn’t said a word to Keelut
since he had been signed on in Halifax.
Dunn, the man he worked with the most concerning
the dogs was quiet towards him. He had heard someone
mention that this one had lived with the Inuit for a
period of time but he was starting to have his doubts.
Every time he tried to engage the second mate in
conversation using the Inuit tongue, the one called Dunn
just shrugged his shoulders and told Keelut to look after
the animals.
Higgins the third mate, would talk to him and answer
any questions he might have. Keelut made a point of
making his questions simple as if the mate were
explaining something to a child. The Eskimo always
listened wide eyed and thanked him afterwards. If a
person asked the right questions, that person could learn
quite a few things. So far Keelut had found out two very
important items which suited him fine for the moment.
Where they were stopping and where they were going.
There were other things of course, but those two pieces of
information were most important to Keelut, they would
make him important in the eyes of Lak.
Irwin looked down at his hands and sighed, they were
chapped and bleeding. Mary had been right, this type of
life was certainly different from his brother’s boat, not
that his hands didn’t chap or bleed there, they did but it
was the whole aura of the SHY LADY, he didn’t think
there was anything that this ship and her crew couldn’t
handle and this was a good place to prove himself as far
as he was concerned, to prove he was as good as his older
brother. Irwin knew he’d been a disappointment to his
family. His father and brother both considered him
worthless, only his dearly departed mother (as only a
mother can, God rest her soul) saw any redeeming
qualities in her younger son. Contrary to what many
people thought, Irwin wasn’t stupid, he was just slower
than most people and because he was slower, he found it
difficult to be accepted by others and find his place in
society. Prior to leaving New Bedford, his work record
consisted of a couple weeks on a small fishing boat and
sweeping an old warehouse. So when an opportunity to
sail with Mason and MacDonald presented itself, Irwin
jumped at the chance. His brother laughed when he
heard that his younger brother had signed up aboard a
whale ship and the SHY LADY, no less. The next day, he
went aboard with a shy Irwin in tow and spoke to
MacDonald about releasing his brother from his
obviously spur of the moment decision. The first mate
listened and looked at the younger Irwin, he could have
let him go, it would have been easy enough to explain to
Mason but there was something about the young man, a
potential that others missed perhaps that made
MacDonald refuse the older brother’s request, and for
that the younger Irwin was grateful and he was anxious
to show that Mr. MacDonald had made the right choice,
but at the moment…
Oaks saw Irwin looking at his hands and sympathized.
He had never served on a whaling ship in the north but
had experience aboard china tea clippers and runs across
the Atlantic. He had taken a liking to the clumsy Irwin
and had taken him under his wing.
Irwin saw Oaks looking at him and held up his hands
for the other man to see. “Too soft,” was all he said.
Oaks grinned, “Hell, that ain’t no problem Ray, same
thing happened to me first time out.”
“Really Jasper?” asked Irwin.
“Yeah really, Ray. Tell ya what ya do. When we finish
the watch, you head to the paint locker and get ya some
turpentine.”
“Turpentine, Jasper?” said Irwin a bit perplexed.
Oaks nodded his head. “Yeah Ray, turpentine. You get
some of that and rub it into your hands, that’ll cool ‘em
off and ease the pain until they toughen up.”
“Ok Jasper, I’ll try it, I trust ya’s.”
Oaks clamped him on the shoulder. “Good. Now let’s
get to checking that capstan or Mr. Higgins is gonna
have our asses.”
“Ok, Jasper,” said Irwin picking up their tools.
Hollister walked about the ship, listening to creaks,
admiring the cold emptiness about him and thankful
that he was not seasick, which he attributed to the way
the ship was handled. So far he could honestly say he
was impressed with Mason and the others and by the
way things were going. He himself would confess his
knowledge of the sea and of the arctic was marginal at
best but sailing with the crew of the SHY LADY eased
his worries some. He liked to talk to people and found
those aboard the whaling ship most interesting.
Yesterday he had talked to Sherman and Goodman, the
two of them had worked as trappers and mail carriers in
Canada before signing on. Two of the seamen, Braun and
Schultz hailed from Munich. Landsman Charles Rivers
was a stable hand from St. Louis looking for a change
and ordinary seaman Antonio Grubber was once a barber.
Everyone had a story everyone had a reason for being
there. They were either running away from something or
to something.
As he talked to them, Hollister began to wonder about
himself, what did the future hold for him? Was he
running away? Was Nancy correct in her words? This
was still not an answer readily available to him.
Hollister was tired of running after stories, competing
against younger reporters, hoping for that one story that
would make him stand out above all others. Oh, he had
done good work in the past that he knew but nothing
that he would be remembered for in the next hundred
years, a certain immortality with the pen that would be
admired for generations to come. That was something he
had yet to achieve. He hoped at the end of the voyage,
the question he asked himself would cease to be. This
voyage meant many things to many people, how many
would find their answers?
The wind was beginning to pick up and the barometer
was beginning to fall, foul weather from the northeast
was to be expected, not unusual in this section of the
Davis Strait thought Dunn as he stood near the helm,
hands clasped behind his back. The SHY LADY was
sailing before the wind and it was his watch, the ship
was his responsibility. It was a trust he did not take
lightly. He listened to the sounds of the ship and without
thought, adjusted his balance to its roll. Lines and
canvas stretched with the wind, pushing the ship to its
destination, far reaches seen by few, known to an even a
lesser number and at that point in time, the second mate
commanded the SHY LADY.
After checking their heading and satisfied that all was
well for the time being, Dunn allowed himself some
private thoughts on a matters that were bothering him
and what was bothering most was the Eskimo they had
taken on to help with the dogs. There was something
about him that didn’t sit right with Dunn. He knew the
Inuit, or at least thought he did. He had lived with them
for over two years and contrary to what Keelut might
believe, Dunn did understand his feeble attempts at
communication but that in itself was something that the
ice master sensed was sinister about the man they had
brought aboard, he was having second thoughts about
him. He didn’t like him but he knew that Mason and his
old friend MacDonald would need more to go on than his
suspicion, so he kept his eye on him, waiting for the Inuit
to slip up. The dogs were another concern. It was obvious
that Kura had cheated them and if they had had the
time Dunn would have corrected the problem, the trouble
was, they didn’t have the time. That old bastard Kura
probably sold his best stock to those with mail contracts
or sled dogs to be sent west on the railroad and hadn’t
given them a good selection which meant more problems.
The dogs had already killed two of the weaker ones and
three more were sick, causing Dunn to separate them
from the others in their already limited amount of space.
“Sir,” said one of the lookouts “looks like some heavy
ice ahead of us there.”
Dunn looked over the railing. “Alright Smith, Thank
you. Braun, stand by to shorten sail.” He turned to the
helmsman, “Starboard the helm.” He said and waited for
the ship to respond, making its turn slowly to the
larboard side. “Hard over!” commanded Dunn wanting
the SHY LADY to complete her swing more quickly.
Dunn walked quickly forward to see what was before
them and seeing a relatively clear path, shouted to the
helm, “Helm amidships! Braun, belay my last on
shorting sail!” To shorten sail would lessen the ships
speed and most would think this a prudent decision, but
Dunn had no desire to lose steerage in these waters. As
far as he was concerned, he could avoid a problem faster
if the ship was moving at a reasonable rate. “Helmsman,
right your helm and keep her steady.” Dunn would be a
happy man when they reached anchorage, that much
was certain.
Mason and MacDonald leaned over the chart showing
the Davis Strait between Canada and Greenland. On
paper, it all looked so clear and simple but distances
could be deceiving and in this place, deadly.
“Isaac says we can skirt most of the ice in this area,”
said MacDonald pointing at the chart.
Mason nodded his head, “Yeah, I can see that. Question
is, do we go up the coast or try to cross Baffen Bay?”
MacDonald shook his head, “Hell, I don’t know Jon. If
we was whaling, I know where we’d go to winter over,
but now, I don’t know, with the ice the way it is I’m not
sure how far we can go.” Mason agreed, “The bay is 700
miles across, and you’re right, it’s that damned ice that’s
bothering me, if we can’t break through we’ll be farther
from our objective, which means more time with the dogs
and sledges.”
“We should be alright if we stay in deep water,” said
MacDonald.
“I figure this course,” said Mason drawing a line “is
better than headin’ up the coast. Ice will be thicker there
I reckon.”
“Isaac said about the same thing,” said MacDonald.
“How far ya think we can get?”
Mason shook his head and sighed, “Once we finish at
the post, I wanna head up to Craig Harbor, straight
through to Smith Sound and into Kane Basin. If we’re
lucky, we can sail right into the Lincoln Sea.”
“And if we’re not lucky?” asked MacDonald.
Mason pointed to a point on the map and MacDonald
nodded. Ellesmere Island.
Timmy winced as Ed tightened the bandage he had
just wrapped around the boy’s left hand and listened as
the cook gently scolded him.
“Them dogs ain’t pets Timmy, you’re lucky they didn’t
chew off your damn hand.”
Timmy nodded his head and did his best to hold back
the tears, but it was hard. “I’m sorry, Ed, I just wanted to
pet ‘em, that’s all. I didn’t mean no harm.”
“Them’s working dogs boy, mean as the Devil, but I
guess you know that now, don’t ya!”
“Keelut said it’d be alright,” said the young ship’s boy.
The old cook nodded thoughtful like, “Yeah, well, you
stay away from him too. I got a feeling that one is bad
news. You spend your time concentrating on your duties
and ship learnin’.”
“Yes Ed,” said the boy meekly.
The cook smiled and mussed the boy’s hair, “You was
pretty scared though, huh?”
Timmy nodded, “Ya got that right Ed, I was powerful
scared,” he said with a shy smile. “Hey, Ed where we
going again?”
“We’re heading up to a trading post near Upernavik,
hopefully get some help and some information.”
“Information on what, Ed?” asked the boy.
“Oh stuff. The weather, the ice, things like that,
anything else the Captain and Mr. MacDonald can think
to ask, I guess.”
“What about after that Ed?”
Ed thought for a moment, “Well, I don’t rightly know
Timmy, but Captain Mason says we’s looking for new
hunting grounds, which probably means further north. I
figure if that be the case, then we’ll make our way up
through the Kane Basin, maybe to the Lincoln Sea, but
me, I’m just guessing boy.”
Keelut listening outside the galley smiled, he had
guessed the same thing. His work aboard the SHY LADY
was almost done.

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