"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 33 Anchorage and Eskimos p393~409

“Let go larboard anchor!” shouted Mason, which was
echoed by MacDonald. The large black anchor splashed
into the cold dark waters of Baffin Bay followed by the
rattle and clank of the flat black linked chain it was
attached to. Dunn and Higgins yelled commands to men
aloft and on deck. Sails were loosely furled and lines
coiled smartly. Due to the tides on the section of coast
they were near, the SHY LADY floated quietly two miles
offshore as if waiting for the trading post that was in
view to make the next move.
“Prepare my boat!” shouted Mason, “Mr. Dunn, you and
Keelut will accompany me ashore.”
“Yes sir,” replied the mate.
Mason saw the ship’s cook come out of the galley. “Ed!”
called the Captain, “Could you spare that young helper of
yours? We might need ‘im ashore.”
The cook smiled, “Oh, I reckon I could be without the
lad for awhile Captain.”
“Good, hurry him up!”
“Aye sir.”
The cook rushed back into the galley, “Timmy, grab
your jacket and cap. You’re a going ashore with the
Captain and Mr. Dunn.”
“I am?” said the boy excitedly.
The old cook nodded, “Yes, yes, now hurry up and get
out there.” The boy didn’t need a second urging and
tossing his dish rag over a barrel, ran to get his coat and
wool cap and within a minute was back standing in the
galley. Ed looked him over quickly and re-buttoned the
boy’s coat which in haste he had done in a crooked
manner.
“Ya listens to what the Captain and Mr. Dunn tells ya,
Timmy. And don’t says nothing unless you is asked. You
let the Captain do the talking.”
“Yes, Ed,” said the boy.
“And stay away from that damned Keelut.”
“Yes, Ed.”
“Now get out of here, they’s waiting for ya!” Timmy
didn’t need to be told a second time and rushed to the
captain’s boat as it was being lowered. Once it was in the
water, the cook boy slid down one of the davit lines into
the boat and took his place between two oarsmen. The
boat pushed off and on Dunn’s command the oars were
placed into the water and the men began their stroke.
Timmy watched everything with a kind of awe. The
first thing that struck him was the quietness of the place,
it seemed that with the exception of the barking dogs on
the ship and the splash of the oars, there was no sound.
It felt strange. The coastline, what he could see of it, was
dark with a white background that seemed to stand out,
almost glowing if one might use that descriptive word.
Dunn stood at the steering oar, looking ahead. Mason
sat in the forward sheets, his eye on the distant shore,
upon which the cook boy could see small fires burning
and what appeared to be a building of sorts but due to
the distance and the darkness, it was difficult to make
out. Keelut sitting before Timmy in the boat gave him an
evil grin. “My home boy, my home,” he said proudly
touching his chest. The cook boy just nodded
remembering what Ed had told him as well as his mother.
Before long he could hear the sound of waves lapping
against the shore and two men forward as well as the
Captain jumped out and pulled the whaleboat up on the
dark pebble shore. As soon as the boat was secure,
Mason and Dunn with Timmy trailing behind, made
their way to the trading post where a smiling bald man
was waiting for them.
“Good evening Gentlemen, but it’s always evening this
time of year,” he said trying to make a little joke.
“What can I do for you?” he said casually, as if strange
ships appeared out of nowhere on a regular basis, which
the cook boy thought probably wasn’t too far from the
truth in this place.
“A tot of rum for my boat crew if ya don’t mind and
some information,” said Mason, knowing both requests
could be easily handled.
“That I can do for you, ahh…”
“Mason, Captain Mason of the SHY LADY and this is
my Second Mate, Mr. Dunn, and,” he gestured towards
Timmy, “this is Tim Reiner, our ship’s boy.”
“Well, gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Lars
Johanson, post trader and I bid you welcome.” Johanson
called to one of the Eskimo girls who grabbed a bottle of
rum and some tin cups and quickly left the cabin. The
trader pulled out a bottle from under the counter and set
up three glasses. Mason looked at the bottle with
approval, Kentucky bourbon.
“And what can I get for the boy?” asked Johanson
referring to Timmy.
“A small mug of beer will sit fine with him, Mr.
Johanson,” said Mason.
Timmy thanked the Dane who gave him a mug of beer
from a keg resting on the counter where the men were
standing, and lifted his glass with the others as they
drank a toast. After the three men downed their alcohol,
the Dane poured them another.
“Now Captain, you asked about information. What
kind of information might you need?”
“What do you know of conditions north?”
The Dane shrugged his shoulders, “Well that would
depend Captain, how far north?”
“Around Melville Bay, maybe Smith Sound, up around
that aways,” said Dunn.
Johanson laughed. “Well, Melville Bay might be alright
gentlemen, might be. But I can’t speak for Smith Sound
and if you’re agoing there, you’re maybe thinking Kane
Basin, ja?”
“Maybe,” said Mason.
“Well, your headin’ up late season, are ya not?”
“That’s our business,” said Mason.
The trader held up his hands. “That it is Captain and
I’ll ask no more about it. As is, I hear that Kane Basin is
solid, if a warm spring comes on fast you might have
some trouble. Is there anything else I might be able to
help you with?”
“Dunn?” said Mason turning to his second mate.
Dunn looked at the trader, “We’re gonna need some
Eskimo help. I saw some outside would they be willing to
travel with the ship?”
Johanson shrugged his shoulders, “That depends,
maybe.”
“Who’s their leader?” asked Dunn.
The Dane smiled and shook his head, “You’re new here,
and we have a certain way of doing business in these
parts, you see…”
“Who’s their leader?” asked Dunn again.
There was something in Dunn’s voice that made the
trader nervous and the way this Mason was staring at
him, he was beginning to feel uncomfortable. “He’s called
Peter he’s got maybe 50 people in his band, some of ‘em
went to work with the other whale ships but most stayed
with ‘im.”
“They got dogs?” asked Dunn
“Ja,” said Johanson nodding his head and wondering
why the hell whalemen would be so interested in that,
“they got dogs.”
“Bring him to us,” said Mason, helping himself to
another drink.
“Oh, of course, in the morning, I’d…”
“Now,” said the whaling captain.
Dunn smiled. “There ain’t no morning in this place, ya
said it yourself, now is as good a time as any. Go get this
Peter we want to talk to him.”
Johanson knew it was pointless to argue, he was
beginning to wonder who he disliked more, the Eskimos
or the whalemen. The trader sent another girl to find
Peter. As they waited Timmy could feel the tension in the
room and he was beginning to understand, really
understand, the kind of men Mason, MacDonald, Dunn
and Higgins were or had to be to live the type of life they
lead. There were preachers and shopkeepers and then
there were whalemen. Both the captain and the mate
stood by with serious expressions on their faces. The
wonders and strangeness of this place, new to the eyes of
the cook boy were just passing pictures to the men he
was with. To them this was business.
It must have been about fifteen minutes later, maybe
longer before the door opened and a well built Eskimo
entered with a woman whose face was scarred on the left
side. Upon entering the building and seeing the
whalemen, the girl had a sudden intake of breath and
her eyes opened wide as if she recognized them. Mason
and Dunn looked at each other, surprised by her reaction
but said nothing.
The two Inuit spoke quickly to each other in hushed
tones with darting glances at the men. There was a
certain urgency and…relief, if that word could be used in
their speech.
The man spoke, “I am Peter and this is my sister,
Ahnah. Your ship?” he asked pointing.
“Aye, that’s my ship, I’m Mason.”
Ahnah spoke to her brother. Dunn listened, a bit
perplexed and spoke to Mason.
“She says she’s seen us before Captain and our ship.”
“I haven’t been up here in years and never with the
SHY LADY.”
“Nor I Captain,” said Dunn in agreement, “but still she
says she saw us before.” Dunn listened as she continued
to speak. “Strange Captain, she’s asking about
MacDonald.”
“Aesop? What the hell for?” asked Mason.
“I’m sure I don’t know sir.”
Peter turned toward the whalemen, “Is there a black
man with you, a night man?”
Mason nodded, “Yes, we have a black man on board,
the ship’s first mate, MacDonald, why?”
This seemed to act as some form of confirmation and
the girl nodded her head.
“When do we leave Mason?” asked Peter.
Dunn was surprised, “Christ, that was easy!”
Mason was as perplexed as his second mate. “You don’t
even know where we’re going or what we’re going to do.”
The two Eskimos just smiled happily as if they had
won some sort of prize at the circus and replied in their
native tongue which Dunn translated. “To put it simply,
it don’t matter Captain. We’re the ones they’ve been
waiting for, whatever that means sir.”
“Very well Mr. Dunn, we’ll make arrangements in the
morning.” Mason turned toward the post trader. “Thank
you for your hospitality Mr. Johanson, my men will
return tomorrow.”
Dunn told Peter they would return the next day, and
with that the two whalemen and the cook boy left the
cabin, their initial business completed. They arrived on
the gravel beach, when Mason suddenly noticed
something.
“Where’s Keelut?” he asked.
“I haven’t seen him since we came ashore, sir,” said
Dunn.
“Aye sir,” said Richard Walker, the boat steerer. “As
soon as the boat was grounded, he took off sir.”
“You want me to see if I can find him Captain?” asked
Timmy shyly, hoping he could make some contribution.
Mason smiled and clapped the boy on the shoulder, “No,
I don’t think so Timmy, you wouldn’t be able to find him
lessen’ he wanted you too. Thanks for the offer though.”
“Well, if ya ask me, I say good riddance to the son of a
bitch,” said Walker. “Don’t think we’ll see him again.”
Dunn looked about him and shook his head. “I wouldn’t
be so sure of that,” he said. “That bastard is one bad
penny.”
With nothing more to say the men climbed into the
boat and returned to the ship.
The next “day” was a different picture on the gravel
beach and aboard the SHY LADY. Whale boats and
umiaks traveled back and forth in the darkness carrying
sleds, equipment, people and food. To settle with
Johanson, Mason bought 10 gallons of rum and two
barrels of beer. It wasn’t much but it shut the Dane up
and allowed the whalemen to do their work.
There was no sign of Keelut but that wasn’t surprising.
A sled and a team of dogs were missing, it wasn’t hard to
figure out who might of taken it. A search was made but
shifting winds and fresh snow prevented the dogs and
sled from being found. Keelut was gone and nobody knew
where he might be or what mischief he might be up to.
Hollister took notes on everything he saw, the smells
the sounds everything associated with the newcomers
who now walked upon the decks of the SHY LADY. He
was amused by their amazement of simple ordinary
things that Hollister and the crew gave little thought of,
blocks and tackles, the helm, the canvass sails which
pushed the ship through the world’s oceans and the lines
associated with them, Ed’s galley and the hold of the ship.
And though many of the men had worked on and around
whale ships in the past, to the Inuit women and children
these were manmade wonders only seen from a distance
and they were in awe of what they saw.
MacDonald looked at the deck and shook his head.
“Christ, what a mess!” he said to himself. They were
carrying fifty extra people, men, women and children,
sleds, skins, dogs, tents, harpoons and guns. Well, at
least he didn’t have to worry about them they were
Dunn’s concern for the most part. Still the ship was
beginning to look more like a city tenement than a New
Bedford whaler. McKee the carpenter was busy building
extra pens and cursing up a storm for anyone that cared
to listen, damning Dunn, the Eskimos, the dogs or Mason,
it didn’t matter. Higgins was busy bringing up the
barrels of alcohol on deck and securing them in a safe
place as well as airing out the hold so their guests would
have some shelter from the elements as the ship made its
transit. Much to the relief of the whalemen, the Eskimos
weren’t particular about their quarters and found the
hold quite to their satisfaction as long as they could go on
deck when they wished. Dunn made arrangements for
their women to take their turns cooking in the galley. It
meant that Ed had only
half the cooking space, but it was only for a short time so
the old cook accepted it without complaint like he did
with most things. After six hours, they pulled the last
umiak aboard and amongst the clutter found a place to
secure it, to say the SHY LADY was a sight was an
understatement that was for sure.
“Mr. MacDonald,” said Mason surveying the deck of his
beautiful ship with some annoyance. “Let’s get ready to
get underway we’ll clean up as we go. Mr. Dunn, please
bring Peter and Ahnah to my cabin.”
“Aye sir,” replied both men.
Mason walked across the deck passing through
laughing Eskimos, crying babies, swearing sailors and
barking dogs. The SHY LADY was becoming quiet the
menagerie of living things and their associated material
items. Seeing Timmy, he told him he wanted the ship’s
steward Alfred Burger to report to his cabin.
Enter his private sanctuary, he took off his peacoat and
tossed it on his bunk. His hands in the small of his back,
he arched and felt it crack, which made him feel a little
better, if the years were catching up with him maybe
that was a sign. Who really knows about such things?
There was a knock on his cabin door.
“Yes?” said Mason. The door opened and Dunn entered,
followed by Peter, Ahnah and the steward Alfred Burger.
“Please, be seated. Mr. Dunn, I want you to stay.
Burger, see if Ed has any tea and biscuits for our guests.”
“I think he’s got some coffee, Captain,” said the
steward.
Dunn cleared his throat and Mason sighed, “I think tea
will be fine, Burger.”
“Yes sir,” said the steward, who left for the galley.
“You’ve come aboard quickly and I’m grateful for that. I
don’t think it will take long for your people to settle in. If
you have any problems, please see Mr. Dunn or Mr.
Higgins,” said Mason, Dunn translated.
“Now, as to your payment, you haven’t asked for much
to help us, but I want to make sure were square on that
account. I also want to make clear what we want you to
help us do on this voyage.” Mason pulled out a list and
began to read out the items they had agreed on, upon
completion of what was required of them. “Six rifles with
50 rounds ammunition, each. 15 knives, 2 bone saws, 2
meat cleavers, 10 pounds of tobacco, 200 matches, 25
wool blankets, 5 mirrors, 3 iron harpoons, 6 iron lances,
30 pounds of coffee, three coffee pots, 8 iron skillets, 1
box of tea, 4 lanterns, 16 green knitted wool caps, 16
pairs of knitted wool mittens, 3 tea kettles, 20 tin plates
and 25 tin cups.” Mason finished reading off the list and
asked if it met with Peter’s satisfaction. Peter nodded his
head and made his mark on the paper, which Mason
dully signed in agreement as Dunn witnessed. They had
more to trade of course but it would be foolish to agree to
give them everything at once. Leaving a little back would
give the natives some incentive if things became slack.
There was a knock on the door and Burger came in
carrying a tray of tea and ship’s biscuit, which the Inuit
thought a treat, along with some butter and jam. After
pouring the tea, the steward was dismissed and Mason
turned to ask Peter and Ahnah some questions.
“When we first met, your sister acted as if she’d seen
us before, and you said we were the ones you were
waiting for. What did you mean?” Dunn translated the
question and listened to Peter’s answer.
“Ahnah has seen us in dreams, Captain. For many
years she knew we were coming.”
“How?” asked Mason. “We didn’t even know we were
coming until last year.”
Dunn shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know how to
rightly explain it Captain. You see, Ahnah is what they
call Angakkug, kind of a cross between a witch and a
fortune teller, if you will.”
“That’s reassuring Isaac,” said Mason. “Two hundred
years ago they were burning witches in New England.”
Ahnah spoke, pointing to the two men and pointing
above. Dunn cocked his head to the side and asked her a
few questions before turning back to Mason.
“She has dreamed of you, me and Aesop for many years
that’s why they asked about Aesop when they first saw
you and me Captain, I guess it proved we were the ones
they was waitin’ for.”
“What did she see in her dreams?” asked Mason, his
curiosity pulling him in closer, trying to understand
these things that were strange to him.
Dunn referred the question to the scarred Inuit girl
who had everything stored in her head and quickly
answered.
“She saw me on a black ship with smoke and it was
sinking, I was in the water and people were shooting at
me,” said Dunn.
“The TECUMSEH?” asked Mason.
Dunn nodded his head, “Near as I can figure sir, she
also says she saw me and Aesop on a dying ship in the
cold that took all except two men. That could only be the
SPIDER, Captain.”
“Strange,” said Mason. “How the hell could she know
these things?”
“I don’t know Captain, she just does. She says she saw
a young boy on her father’s ship as it was going down,
and that boy lived and grew to be a man, to be here now.”
“What was the name of her father’s ship?” asked the
Master of the SHY LADY.
Dunn rattled off the question, which Peter answered.
“NORTH STAR.”
Mason closed his eyes and nodded his head, “Yes, the
NORTH STAR. She went down in the Java Sea, 1863.”
Dunn looked at Mason. “You were aboard the NORTH
STAR?” Mason nodded.
“I thought she was lost with all hands?” said Dunn.
“Not all hands,” said Mason. “I survived. What was
your father’s name?”
“Lambert,” said Peter, “Nathan Lambert.”
“Master of the NORTH STAR,” said Mason.
“You knew our father?” asked Ahnah, with Dunn
interpreting.
Mason nodded his head, gave a sad smile and then
clarified his meaning. “I can’t really claim to have known
him, but I did meet him.”
“Was he a good captain?” asked Peter. “Did his men
respect him?”
“From my short time around him, I believe he was a
good captain,” said Mason. “And yes, he was a respected
and honorable man.”
His comment brought smiles to Peter and Ahnah. They
had never met anyone other than their mother who had
ever met their father and they were happy for the things
he said.
“We’ll talk again later. Isaac, please see that Peter and
Ahnah as well as their people are taken care of.”
“Yes Captain.”
There was a knock on the cabin door, “Yes?” called the
captain. The door opened and MacDonald entered. “We’re
under sail Captain and the first watch is set.”
“Thank you, Aesop.”
“And Captain,” began the mate. “One of our charts is
missing and a long glass.”
“And I think I know who took it,” said Dunn.
Mason nodded his head. It was the first person to come
to mind. “Keelut.”
At hearing the Eskimo’s name Ahnah and Peter jerked
their heads towards the captain and Ahnah spoke, the
meaning of her words quite clear even to those who were
unfamiliar with the language.
“With Keelut, there is only trouble,” translated Dunn.
“Hell, we already know that Isaac,” said MacDonald.
With that Mason was left alone in his cabin and his
thoughts.
Once on deck, Dunn showed the girl to the hold where
her mother and some of the other woman and children
were waiting, Peter and most of the men were on deck
watching the ship’s sailing with extreme interest.
The hold wasn’t arranged too badly for their guests, the
sailors made it as comfortable as they could, insulating
areas with straw and wood planking where they might.
“Thank you Dunn,” said Ahnah a bit shyly. She was not
used to being around other men, since…
“It’s…my pleasure…Ahnah,” said Dunn a bit awkwardly.
It was ridiculous he knew but there
was something about this girl that made him feel like a
tongue tied school boy. “If you need anything, please,
ahh…please don’t hesitate to ask.” His words caused the
Eskimo girl to smile, and he left somewhat embarrassed
for he was sure he had some duty or another to attend to.
MacDonald saw Dunn come up from the hold, looking a
little flushed. “Hey Isaac, you ok?”
“Uhmm, yeah, Aesop…I’m fine.”
“They all settled down in the hold?”
“Yeah, I think they’re ok down there.”
“Why don’t you get some rest Isaac, you got the watch
after Danny,” said MacDonald.
Dunn nodded his head, “Yeah, I think I’ll do that,
thanks Aesop.” And he went to his cabin, a little rest
would do him good.

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